Eihei Dogen

Master Dogen was born in 1200 in Uji close to Kyoto, the capital of Japan at that time. His father was a Naidaijin, one of the main ministers of the Japanese emperor, his mother was a daughter of an important person at the emperor´s court. He lost his father, when he was three, and at the age of eight, he also lost his mother. At a very early age he learnt of the world of sadness and evanescence. When he was thirteen, he went to Mount Hiei, which was at that time a buddhist centre of the Tendai school. He practiced day and night, but could not dissolve his doubts. That is why he followed Master Eisai´s advice and in 1223 left for China. He visited numerous masters here, and finally met Master Nyojo, the abbot of Keitoku-ji on the Tendo Mountain in Ming-shu province. In this temple, the practice of zazen, equal to the zazen of Bodhidharma, was strong and authentic. Dogen remained there for seven years and then came back to Japan. At the age of thirty four, he wrote Bendowa, a book of great wisdom, in 1233 he wrote Genjo-koan and Eihei Koroku. In 1230 Dogen was living in the Kennin-ji Temple, and in 1235 he opened his dojo in Kosho-ji, in the town of Uji. Later on, he settled down in Eihei-ji, where he became the abbot of this Zen temple of the Soto school.

His teaching was soon famous all over Japan. Ejo, 40 years older than Dogen, became his secretary. He was fully devoted to his master and to the zazen practice. He got up earlier than Dogen, he lied down next to him, he became his shadow. He followed him all over Japan and after Dogen´s death, Ejo was his successor.

Dogen, whose teachings and spirit were universal, had a great influence on all schools of Buddhism in Japan. Experts on martial arts asked him for advice and often practiced under his tuition. He taught them: “Sit into zazen and realize your original nature.” And then added: “To get to know the way of the perfect enlightenment means to examine yourself, to see yourself as well as everything else. To realize all this means to leave the body and mind, both your own and that of the others.” The profound teachings of Dogen educated many monks. Later on, Dogen wrote three famous sentences, in which he explains to the masters of martial arts and all monks the difference between the real practice and an illusionary searching. “The practice itself is a perfect enlightenment, which is without an ending, and without a beginning. The Satori is not at the end, but the practice and satory form a unity. The real way is without an aim and profit, therefore there is nothing to look for and nothing to get rid of. The real way is a way without fear.” Master Dogen is the founder of the Soto Zen school and the author of its main texts. His works include: “Shobogenzo” (The Eye and Treasury of the True Law “Shobogenzo Zuimonki” (the collection of citations), Fukan zazengi (General Advice on the Principles of Zazen), “Shinjingakudo” (Learning [through] the body and mind). With Ejo´s help, Dogen wrote “Tenyo kyokun” (Instructions for the temple cook), he wrote also “Ju undo shiki” (Regulations for the dojo).

Master Dogen is one of the most important representatives of Buddhism and is often described as the leading classical philosopher in Japan. His works are famous all over the world and are studied not only by Buddhists, but also modern western philosophers.

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